Content Warning: Descriptive detailing of physical abuse and domestic violence.
It is not uncommon for the daily group gathering of my friends in iCafè to consist of avoiding revision and responsibility by channelling our overwhelming sense of girl power and queer liberation into heated discussions about problematic tweets crafted by cishet people from high school, or about our desire to change the world for our future kids (who will, of course, all be best friends). However, it is rare that our conversations over soya-milk lattes that have probably gone cold stimulate the feeling of supreme rage that we experienced at the beginning of May upon witnessing the sheer ignorance of Justin Bieber. When discussing his recent musical releases with Ed Sheeran and Billie Eilish, two tremendously influential artists with young and impressionable fanbases, our anger resurfaced.
Let me re-jog your memory. On Sunday 5th May 2019, Bieber posted a picture on Instagram exhibiting what he referred to as ‘The Legendary Equation’: Michael Jackson + Tupac Shakur = Chris Brown. In his caption, he flaunts his love for Chris Brown and defends his friend’s past in the name of talent, justifying what readers presume to be the infamous 2009 assault that saw Brown violently attack Rhianna, his girlfriend at the time. Bieber describes Brown’s abusive history as merely ‘a mistake he made’ and confidently states that those who chose to no longer support Brown’s music career because of this, ‘need to reevaluate!’
A superabundance of problems surface when an A-list celebrity with a devoted, youthful fanbase as colossal as Justin Bieber’s announces their alliance with an abuser – never mind an abuser who has been forgiven by millions, despite both a detailed court case and photographs of Rihanna’s horrifically disfigured, bleeding and bruised face being accessible to the public at the click of a button. But what is all the more terrifying are the hundreds of thousands of comments that rapidly accumulated below Bieber’s post. The supportive comments were predominantly from men eager to express not only their camaraderie with Brown in his future musical endeavours, but their apathetic standpoint on domestic abuse. Sean Kingston, Nick Cannon, José Balvin, Marlon Wayans, Marshmello, and countless other hugely influential celebrities were among the thousands of Instagram users who commented on the post to publicly champion Chris Brown.
The ever-broadening fourth-wave feminist movement is undeniably encouraging more impassioned inhabitants of contemporary civilisation than ever before to become actively engaged in the research, discussion, and education of sociopolitical issues like domestic violence. The comments on Bieber’s post also show a magnificent amount of people expressing their support for Rihanna and abuse survivors, with hundreds of users rightfully declaring, ‘DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IS NOT A MISTAKE.’
So, we can see an overwhelming majority of people with the firm belief that Brown and other abusers should, under no circumstance, be excused for their violent behaviour. But, on the other hand, we have a few incredibly socially influential people banding together to sympathise with and ultimately protect these abusers – and for what? Why are people still working with these guys?
Since the emergence of the Me Too movement, the fraternal rhetoric surrounding survivors of abuse coming forward about their experiences has had an alarming focus on a man’s fear of being misbranded as an abuser. This fear is so potent that it tends to override not only their newfound fear of abuse as a common reality, but their fear of making a person feel unsafe. Therefore, rather than declaring their support for those who have been abused and have spoken out, people like Bieber are more interested in sticking up for their abuser friends; they speak of the 21st-century as a ‘scary time for men,’ rather than speaking of human civilisation in its entirety being a scary place for women and queer folk to simply exist, historically and presently. As men in power, they are particularly overwhelmed with alarm due to the increased likelihood of abuse allegations turning their entire lives and careers to ashes, regardless of whether they are true or false.
When people see celebrities like Bieber branding abuse as a ‘mistake’ and utilising their social and cultural privilege to encourage others to do the same, they realise that in order to ensure that they will maintain their livelihood if they find themselves in a similar position to Brown, they too must sign this silent contract of mutual protection.
In turn, an alliance is formed, and their membership into this toxic subculture of people who believe that standing with abusers is the only way to control how their lives would play out after allegations are made against them, is accepted. Both the active and silent members of this subculture are continually reassured that their stance is morally correct because they witness the largely untarnished success of abusers like Chris Brown, who have remained rich, in work, and idolised by millions.
For his assault against Rhianna, Brown received a mere community service order and five years probation. This ideology leads to a mockery of the Me Too movement and almost denies survivors of abuse any sense of hope or power. In June this year, Brown’s most recent album reached number one in the Official UK and US charts.
The more people who band together to actively or subconsciously uphold this sympathetic ideology in favour of abusers, the more people who will feel they are able to excuse their abusive behaviour by simply announcing, ‘that’s not me, bro’, and moving on, like Brown did. This kind of alliance mirrors the tactical workings of historical white-supremacist culture and of the bourgeoisie, who remain in power by exclusively working in each other’s interest and forcing those who are different from themselves further into the margins of society. Those who have mastered the art of remaining in power understand that within the boundaries of this structurally racist, xenophobic, and patriarchally-fuelled Western capitalist society, you cannot stay at the top of the socio-political hierarchy without people being below you.
It is easy to be self-interested when you are unaware of your own privilege; privilege, in this case, which has been granted to men like Brown and Bieber through their biological makeup. But Bieber, despite his attempts to preach mindfulness and love in his online posts about god and religion, seems to be somewhat alert to the struggles faced by minority groups that he is not part of. Following the tragic death of Nigel Shelby, a 15-year-old child from Alabama who took his own life in response to homophobic bullying in April this year, Bieber posted a picture of Shelby pleading readers to ‘stop the hatred please!’ and expressed his heartbreak regarding the young boy’s death.
So, where does he draw the line in regard to empathy for the oppressed? He would probably respond to that question with an answer like, “God loves everybody bro! He forgives you for your mistakes, no matter how big or small! Forgiveness is the only way, man. Bless up.” Yeah, dude! The same mistakes that have single-handedly ruined the lives of millions of people across the globe since the beginning of human civilisation!
Don’t be like Bieber. Stand with survivors of abuse.
The National Domestic Violence freephone helpline (UK) can be reached on 0808 2000 247. The Rape Crisis National freephone helpline can be reached on 0808 802 9999 between 12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm, every day of the year. Women’s Aid, Victim Support, The Survivors Trust or Survivors UK are also here to help.
[Aischa Daughtery – she/her – @aiiischa]
[image – Mihai Surdu]